ton of questions about moving to brazil

Background info: so I’ve been accepted to a school in Sao Paulo.  I’ve already given my 2 weeks notice at work.  I haven’t gotten my student visa yet.

I’ve got a ton of questions (uma tonelada de perguntas) about moving to Brazil:

1.    I keep hearing how brazil is a dangerous place and not to carry valuables with you.  Is it a bad idea to move to Brazil alone with a laptop case filled with important documents (but no laptop inside), a laptop case with a laptop inside, and 2 heavy duffel bags.  It would be very difficult to walk around with all that stuff alone, and I assume that I would be an easy target for thieves.  Is it a bad idea to carry all that stuff with me when I first get off the plane in Brazil?

2.    Or do you think it’s better to just carry one heavy duffel bag and 2 laptop cases when I come to brazil?  Then, I could get someone to mail me the second duffel bag of clothes.  Or, I could just not have the second duffel bag mailed to me, and I could just buy a lot of clothes in brazil.

3.    Is it a bad idea to carry my laptop in a laptop case when I am in Brazil?

4.    I am a soon-to-be-35 year old.  I am in very good physical health, except I do have gum disease (a dental issue).  Do you have any advice about what kind of expat health insurance to get?

5.    Do you recommend any particular expat health insurance companies?

6.    I’m going to bring my cell phone with me.  What is the process for getting a new phone number/cell phone service in brazil?

7.    A month or two ago, when I was planning on visiting (but not moving to brazil), one guy from my cell phone company said that I have to get a new sim card when I go to brazil.  I’ve never used a sim card.  How does this work?  You get a sim card from a store, you toss out your old sim card, and you stick the new sim card in?  does it give you a new phone number and unlimited data?  Does your phone still have your apps and information in it after getting the sim card, or is the existing information erased?  If you get a second sim card after the first sim card runs out of time, do you get a second new phone number?

8.    Is the process of getting a new cell phone number in brazil different than getting a sim card?

9.    Do you have any recommended cell phone services?  I will just be paying for myself.

10.    Do you recommend living in certain areas in sao Paulo?  If so, why do you recommend these neighborhoods?

11.    Do you get a student discount on your subway tickets in sao Paulo?

12.    Do people just take taxis late at night to avoid crime? 

13.    What if you are a mile away from the subway at night?  Would you walk to the subway or take a taxi home?  What is the smart thing to do?

14.    The only reason I have credit cards is because you are recommended to have 3 credit cards to build up your credit history before you buy a house in America.  Do I need to have credit cards to build up credit history in brazil?

15.    I have one American express credit card and 2 citi credit cards.  Each of the 2 citi cards requires a minimum 25 US dollar payment every month, even if I don’t have 25 US dollars worth of charges every month.  Will I be able to reach 50 US dollars of payment every month on my credit cards in Brazil?  The exchange rate is 3.87 reais per 1 american dollar.

16.    From what I’ve read, it seems like people mostly use cash in brazil.  Do I need credit cards in brazil?

17.    Do you recommend using any particular credit cards in brazil?  I am American.

18.    I have chase bank.  My brother, who has travelled a lot, recommends that I get a second bank account.  That way, if one bank account gets hacked, then thieves would only have access to half my money.  I don’t really like the idea of making life more complicated with 2 accounts.  What do you think of this advice from my brother?

19.    Do I need to buy a plane ticket BEFORE I go to the Brazilian consulate to get a student visa?

20.    Do I need to buy a round trip ticket, or will just a one way ticket to brazil suffice?  I don’t plan to come back to the U.S. unless I have to for a wedding or funeral.

21.    my plan is to keep renewing my student visa until i marry a brazilian girl.  A forum member mentioned that to get permanent residency through marriage, you must provide the civil cartorio with "Your Birth Certificate-Long Form, Certified by the Brasillian Consulate from your home Country, And Translated into Portuguese"

do you think it will sound suspicious to the brazilian consulate if i ask them to certify my birth certificate at the brazilian consulate?  if they ask me why i want to get my birth certificate certified, i would say that if i get married in brazil, i will need the brazilian consulate in the u.s. to certify my birth certificate, and if i do it now, i won't have to book a plane flight to come back here in a few years.  but if i say that, it might sound suspicious, and i wonder if the brazilian consulate may think i want to do a fake marriage to get citizenship.  i worry that they might put a note in my file that i am acting like i want to do a fake marriage that will affect me in the future.  should i ask the brazilian consulate in america to certify my birth certificate?

22.    If I do get the Brazilian consulate in new York to certify my birth certificate, should I ask them to translate the birth certificate also, or should i just have it translated in brazil?

23.    if the brazilian consulate in new york puts a note in my file that i am acting suspicious for wanting them to certify a birth certificate so i won't have to fly back to the u.s. to get the document if i get married in brazil in a few years, do you think the policia federal and civil cartorio in brazil will have access to those notes, or will only the Brazilian consulate in new york have access to those notes?

24.    The administrator at the school I got accepted at claims that I need to present the policia federal a NOTARIZED copy of my birth certificate.  I was born in California and live in new York now.  I think i do have a certified copy of my birth certificate.  According to google, you are not allowed to notarize birth certificates in new York and California.  Any advice on this?

25.    The administrator at the school said that if I can’t get a notarized copy of my birth certificate, I can get a certidão consular.  Do I just get that at the US consulate in brazil?

26.    The administrator at the school said that I have to go to the policia federal when I get to brazil.  I guess I have to go there to tell them my address, too.  When I go to the policia federal, should I try to hire someone to translate for me, or can I just go alone?  (I’ve been learning Portuguese since august pretty intensely, but I know I still suck at Portuguese)

27.    My plan is to get to brazil 2 weeks before school starts.  My plan is to try to get an apartment in 2 weeks, and if that doesn’t work out, then I could live in student housing.  What do you think of this plan?  is it realistic to think that I might be able to get an apartment in 2 weeks with crappy Portuguese?
(most likely, i would probably try to find someone who already has an apartment and become their roommate)

28.    I think I read somewhere that if you get your own apartment in brazil (no roommates), that it could take months before the internet is installed.  Is that true?


I don't know where you're getting your info from but a lot of it is false.....People mostly use cards in Brazil not cash. Cards everywhere, beach vendors take cards
Visa and mastercard

2 banks idea is not bad

Use uber at night

By a sim card at a news stand activate it with a CPF no , I recommend vivo , there is a weekly plan R$15 for a gig of data and limited call time pay as you go....
put a Sao Paulo area code when you activate it, the code is 11
you: "Eu quero comprar chip de Cellular."      (a-yo keroo comprar chippie g sell-u- lar)
salesman: "qual?"
You: "Vivo"        (Vee-vo)
Bear in mind Iphones take a funny little sim chip that you have to buy at a vivo store
you put the chip in will change your no but all other settings and contacts should stay the same

I've installed internet twice , took 2 or 3 days each time

if i use a vivo weekly plan, i will get a new phone number the first week.  when i pay for the second and third week, do i keep the same phone number, or do i get a new number every week?

and do you keep renewing every week at the store, or do you do it online?

does the "call time pay as you go" option take money out of a credit card as you use the minutes, or how does that work?


No you buy the card once and keep the number
I've had the same number 4 years now

You buy credit at the supermarket , Quero comprar credito de vivo

From there you sign up for the pre paid plan on your phone and pay each week from credit on your phone, you can also buy it online but I'm not sure if you need a Brazilian bank account

The promotion package is called vivo turbo, you will probably need a local to help you get it set up on your phone, it's a service you start and the credit is debited off your phone automatically each week, if you don't put credit on the plan will go dead til you recharge then it will activate again, it's all pretty simple

Brazilian cell carriers are all about equally bad.  Brazilians generally choose the one that's least bad locally, and the one their friends and families are on, because the companies charge for calls between each other's networks.  Stevefunk seems to think that  Vivo is least bad in SP, and I have no reason to say different, unless your phone is incompatible (see below).  When you have a group of friends, you'll probably change to their network, if it's different. 
If you're planning on putting a Brazilian SIM card in your  unlocked US phone - usually the most economical choice - you need to consult to see which networks your phone will work on first.  Most US phones with GSM capability will handle voice, but Brazil uses different frequencies for data.    Not all carriers are compatible with all phones.  Use the specific model number from your phone's settings for this search, not the general manufacturer's model:  not all US carriers' model variations are equally compatible.
A typical Brazilian phone plan will give you free in-network calling and a data plan.  Most plans will also give you unlimited WhatsApp that doesn't hit your data plan; be sure that you have this, because Brazilians use WhatsApp for everything.   There's a charge for SMS texting, so people use WhatsApp instead.  There's also a charge for voicemail, so nobody uses it, or checks it.
After inserting the chip, you'll need to change some additional settings in your phone.  You can find these by Googling "(Carrier name) settings for (phone model number)"

The pay as you go you buy a chunk of credit , from that you buy your data plan (in my case vivo turbo) there is no other charge on your cards

I spend exactly R$15 per week on my phone, I only use whatsapp and I basically gave up answering my phone as every call is marketing - it's crazy in Brazil
I would never never ever enter into a phone contrat, it's a waste of money unless you plan to make loads of calls......I never call just whatsapp

For phone calls I call from skype, I top up skype with money via credit card and use that, it's almost free to call a land line and very good rate to call a cellphone , of course I do this on my computer with internet at home, not with phone data.
R$40 on skype lasts me a few months of calling home and local calls to book appointments etc

Friends and family we just chat on video chat facebook or skype which is free

ok.  thanks.  i looked up the vivo turbo website.

it seems like you can make unlimited calls to other vivo customers and you get 40 minutes of calls to non-vivo phones per week. 

how fast does the vivo turbo 1 gb of data per week get used up?

i read this on the brazil wikitravel page:

"Be careful using credit cards at taxis, gas stations, newsstands and small outlets. Their owners aren't so careful about checking employees and technicians who perform maintenance on card machines, so many people have their cards compromised and then over several days have money siphoned off their cards. A safer option is to use cash for small expenses (so you don't need to carry too much - just make sure you only withdraw from bank ATMs) and to go to bigger stores with multiple machines since their managers use to enforce security and checking protocols to prevent scammers from compromising card machines (gas station franchises being a sad exception). If you choose to use your credit card, keep an eye on your statement."

is this true? 

should i avoid using credit cards at taxis, gas stations, news stands, and small stores?"


It's true that it's generally more convenient to make small purchases with cash.  Aside from the security issues, US credit cards aren't universally accepted in Brazil.  in addition, merchant transaction fees on credit cards are high in Brazil, and Brazilian merchants who do accept credit cards often tack a surcharge onto the price to cover them.
Only withdraw cash from ATMs in bank branches:  they're under 24 hour surveillance, and it's much harder for someone to sneak an illicit card reader into one, than it is into a standalone ATM in a store or a mall.

Re:  Luggage Questions 1 & 2
Brazil isn't Afghanistan, for God's sake, and São Paulo isn't Kabul:  you're not flying into a war zone.  Brazilian airports have luggage carts, and you'll be perfectly safe getting your stuff to the taxi line or your Uber, and getting out of the car and into your hotel or AirBnB.  You'll probably be arriving in the morning, and getting to your destination in broad daylight during a busy time of day.  The same alertness you would use in any other major city should be enough.
That said, you should consider streamlining your luggage -- not for security, but for practicality and ease of movement.  Most people overpack to go abroad, so try to avoid that.  Don't try to ship clothes to yourself:  they'll arrive eventually, but you'll have more hassle with Customs and the shipper than such a low value, high volume shipment is worth, and it will be costly, as well.

Re:  Question 3.   " Is it a bad idea to carry my laptop in a laptop case when I am in Brazil?"
No.  It would be a bad idea to put it in your checked luggage; a laptop case in your carry-on is a good idea.
Once you're in Brazil, it's still a good idea, as long as it's in your control at all times, and not, for example, in the chair across the table from you in a coffee shop, with the strap hanging free, saying "grab me and run!"

Re:  Questions 4&5, health insurance
If you have COBRA  from the job you're quitting, find out if they'll cover you in Brazil; if so, you may not need anything more.  As soon as you set foot in-country, you're covered by SUS, the national health plan; wait times are long, so you'll probably only want to use it for emergencies, vaccinations, etc..  Ask the people at your school what private plans they recommend.

Re:  cell phone questions.  Pretty much covered already.  But don't throw your US SIM card out:  put it in a safe place.  You may need it again.

Re:  Question 10.    "Do you recommend living in certain areas in sao Paulo?  If so, why do you recommend these neighborhoods?"

Here's a smart way to narrow your search, and find a good, safe, convenient neighborhood:
First, Google "Bairros nobres em São Paulo."  "Bairro nobre" literally means "noble neighborhood", and it's the general Brazilian term for the best neighborhoods in any city, "best" based on things like safety, convenience, public service, and amenities.  That will give you a couple of overlapping lists, because the concept is a bit subjective -- but there will be lots of overlap.
Next, open a map of São Paulo in Google Maps, centered on your school.  Note any of the  "bairros nobres" nearby, or easily accessible by transit.  Most of them won't be, but some of them will.
You might want to stay in an AirBnB initially in one of the neighborhoods you identify, and check out the others.  Chances are good that you'll find an area you like, and that's convenient for you.
Last year, my husband and I were seriously considering moving to São Paulo, and we were looking at apartments in Bom Retiro and Consolação.  We liked the vibe of those neighborhoods a lot, and they were convenient to USP, where he was hoping to study.   Those plans fell through, so we stayed put.  If those neighborhoods are convenient to your school, they're worth a look; if not, not.

Re:  Question 11.    "Do you get a student discount on your subway tickets in sao Paulo?"
Fulltime students in Brazil not only get discounts on transit, they get discounts on museums, theaters, movies -- lots of things.  Confirm with your school that your course qualifies, and if so, go for it!

Re:  Questions 12 & 13.  People take taxis and Ubers to avoid crime, but also to avoid walking -- it's a huge, spread-out city.
A mile from the subway?  It depends.  If you're alone in Centro at night, yeah, get a ride ASAP, preferably in front of a restaurant or hotel that's open.  If you're with a bunch of friends on Avenida Paulista, or clubbing with friends in a popular area, walk or ride, your option.

Re:  Questions 14 & 15:  Visa and MasterCard have wide acceptance in Brazil; Discover/Diners Club is more limited, but trying to expand.  AmEx seems to be shrinking -- the transaction fee problem for the merchants.
Those cards that you have to pay at least $25/mo. for sound like a really bad deal, wherever you are.  Check with your bank, or check on Credit Karma, to see whether you can replace them with free cards, or at worst, with cards whose annual fees are less than $300 each.

Re:  Question 18
If you anticipate the usual balance of all of your accounts in a single bank to be over $250,000, then yes, you need a second account in a second bank:  that's the limit that the FDIC insures US bank accounts for, so, if your bank is hacked, you could lose everything over that.  Not likely, is it?  Then there's no reason to complicate your life with a second bank, unless you really, REALLY like paying bank fees.
If your real concern is having your debit card scammed in Brazil, there are simple things you can do to lessen that danger that don't involve multiple banks.  First, before you leave, get RFID blocking sleeves for your debit and credit cards, so they can't be scanned and read remotely.  If you're an Amazon Prime member, you can have them delivered free in two days.  Most packages also include a sleeve for your passport, which is a nice touch, now that they're all chipped.  After you've put your cards in them, just make sure to stick your wallet in your carry-on when you go through airport security:  they make the metal detectors go crazy.
The second thing, as stated above, is to only use ATMs in bank branches:  they're much harder for crooks to scam than remote ones of any kind.
Finally (and obviously), if you're using a debit or credit card at a checkout, be sure to shield the keypad when you input your PIN.

Re:  Question 22.   " If I do get the Brazilian consulate in new York to certify my birth certificate, should I ask them to translate the birth certificate also, or should i just have it translated in brazil?"

The Brazilian Consulate will not certify your birth certificate.  Both Brazil and the United States are parties to the Hague Convention on Apostilles, which means that you need to have the Secretary of State of the state where you were born (California, if I remember correctly) attach an apostille to your birth certificate, vouching for it; it will then be accepted by any Brazilian governmental agency.  Check the Secretary of State's website:  this is a common service, and the fee is generally pretty small.
The Consulate will also not translate your birth certificate, or any other document.  You will need to have that done in Brazil, but a Sworn Translator, who is a person specifically authorized to provide translations that are accepted as legal documents.  There are some in every state capital, and at least one company, Fidelity, that provides sworn translations over the Internet.

This answer also applies to Question 24.  the Federal Police will accept your California birth certificate, with an apostille from the California Secretary of State, and a sworn translation of both documents.

Here this song will give you all the info about Brazilian life

Thanks for the responses.  I've been very busy this last week.  I haven't really gotten a chance to digest all the info, but i'll look into more when i get some free time and will give a proper response later.  Thanks

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